AT Blog #2: The Duck Walk / King Clinton / Interstate Camping

Here I am in Damascus, Virginia. 463 miles complete; Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina complete; first section of the Appalachian Trail complete.

So to kick things off, I think some people might be confused as to what the hell I’m doing exactly… So I’m going to do my best to explain. There are so many angles to this whole adventure. so here goes nothing in attempting to paint a big picture:

Appalachian Trail Stats:

– The AT begins at Springer Mountain in North Georgia and continues to Mount Katahdin in Northern Maine.

– The AT is 2,175 miles long.

– It traverses through 14 states.

– “Thru-Hiking” is attempting to hike the entire trail from beginning to end within a year.

– A typical thru-hike takes 5 to 7 months.

– We hike an average of around 15 miles per day. 10 miles is a short day and 20 miles is a long day.

– Our packs typically weigh between 25 and 40 pounds.

– 1500 to 2000 people attempt to complete a thru-hike every year.

– Only 12% of people usually make it all the way.

Day to Day:

My average day currently consists of waking up (cold), packing everything I own into a backpack, hiking up and down mountains all day, unpacking everything I own out of a backpack, and going to sleep (cold). Repeat.

Let’s elaborate:

Hiking: I average about 15 miles per day. My longest day has been the length of a full marathon, 26.2 miles. My shortest day is even more impressive… 0 miles. (Insert your run of the mill “stopping to smell the flowers” quote.)

Weather:

Rain: You get soaked… Remind me to write a complaint letter to “waterproof” clothing brands.

Hot: You sweat so much that it might as well be raining.

Cold: You freeze. If you layer up, you begin to sweat profusely. When you proceed to take off your layers, your clothes turn into ice.

Snow: I hiked through 5 feet of snow climbing up and down Clingmans Dome (the highest point on the AT) in the Smokies. Nothing quite like having no idea when you are going to make that step that will put you up to your waist in snow.

Hail: Hurts. Bad.

Lightning: Scares the piss out of me (I’ve had a couple bad run-ins in my day).

I hike with daily body issues as well.

Blisters: They will show up anywhere they kind find on your feet. Mine tend to set up camp on my heels, the pads of my feet, and under / at the end of / on the side of / on top of every single toe. Oh and my Achilles as well.

Knees: My knees take such a beating that I have resorted to wearing knee braces all day, every day. I am now up to two instances of my knee completely giving out.

Chaffing: Last but most definitely not least… Let’s just say I’ve logged numerous extraordinarily slow miles doing the “duck walk” when the chaffing pain shows no mercy.

Tan / Tan Lines: Yes, two very different things… I’ve worn a long sleeve shirt since day 1. This results in my hands being the tone of a Puerto Rican princess and my arms being as pale as British royalty. Ditto for the feet as well.

Weight: Losing more than anticipated. My shorts that were getting inappropriately tight at home are now a constant struggle to keep from sagging to my ankles.

Beard: Haha… it’s getting big…

Camp Life:

Water: Find a stream, unpack water filter, hand pump the water filter, pack up water filter, and keep walking. Annoying? Absolutely. But I’m telling you people… “fancy” Fiji water has NOTHING on the water I drink every day. Cold, fresh, delicious, and sooo free.

Food: It can be as good as you want it to be. My buddy makes strawberry pancakes and hash browns for breakfast. I usually stick to cold, disintegrated pop tarts. Dinners are great. My dad dehydrates dinners and sends them via mail… I confused you didn’t I? Let me explain: You can place pretty much anything into this mystical machine known as a dehydrator. It removes all moisture from whatever your heart desires. For instance: pasta, ham, and cheese sauce. The pasta is already good to go. The ham becomes jerky (just like beef jerky). The cheese sauce becomes a powder (just like you would enjoy in instant mac and cheese). Why do this you might ask? The price, taste, and selection of a home cooked meal. Doesn’t the meat go bad? The self-life for dehydrated food is outrageous. Therefore you’re able to send it through the mail. Mail? Post offices will hold on to “General Delivery” packages for certain amount of time. Go in and show them your license. Then the fun part… I just add water to the meals and heat them up on my stove made out of half a coke can. Bon Appetite.

Sleeping: The are 3 ways to enjoy your daily slumber; tent, shelter, and cowboy. Tent is self-explanatory. I don’t prefer it because I bought a tiny, not-so-waterproof tent. (Note to self: that makes me sound like an idiot). The shelters are pretty interesting. Every 7 miles or so there is a shelter. These shelters are simply 3 walls (not 4), a floor, and a roof. They usually sleep 6 to 10 people. Upside? You’re out of the rain. Downside? The rain will blow in when the wind is strong enough. I like the social aspect of the shelters. Everybody can complain in unison… chaffing, blisters, and the rain being blown into the shelter are all hot topics. Then my personal favorite: cowboy camping. Lay your pad and sleeping bag beside the campfire and just sleep under the stars.

Bathroom: Dig a hole… Enough said.

Roads/Towns/Resupply: I think this part has been the most confusing for people who are following what I’m doing… First, draw an imaginary continuous line from Georgia to Maine. Then think of all the interstates and highways that go east to west. So yes… we are in the wilderness… BUT, we cross a road every 5 days or so. We take advantage of this by hitch hiking from the crossing to the closest town. Town visits can vary in time and activities. Sometimes we will run into town just to resupply. This can be done at a grocery store or picking up a package, as previously mentioned, sent to you at the post office. Sometimes we will venture into a town for an entire day. Activities include laundry, showering, making phone calls, using the Internet, and sometimes staying at a hiker hostel. Then we hitch hike back to the trail and go another week or so.

So now that we have cleared up the mysterious logistics of the trail, back to some of the comical tidbits.

Misc:

– As I am typing my first blog, we are watching the final four with the parents of a past Tennessee quarterback. Turns out they own the hotel/restaurant/bar we are in. They bought us all dinner and drinks. Then this hammered guy at the bar realizes that our girls are from London. He proceeds to stumble over, say their accents “are really hot”, and ask if they can recite some lines from Harry Potter… because “that would be really hot.”

– Little Dipper wakes up one morning with a mouse nest in her pack. It is just getting cozy when she rudely kicks the little guy out of his new home.

– Me and Red Wing hitch into Gatlinburg with a family consisting of two parents and 3 small children. The boy keeps yelling “WA WA!!!” at the top of his lungs for 20 minutes because we were driving by a creek. The mother, which obviously has the soul of a saint, replies “Good job Edward!” to every teeth grinding scream. The girl in the back keeps yelling that she wants to hear the “scary lady’s” song. After much debate on who the “scary lady” might be, we deduce that she is referring to Lady Gaga.

– As I am hitching out of Gatlinburg, Robin Hood picks me up. I know instantly that this is his name due to a large decal that spans the top of the windshield of his F150. First thing he says to me is “You don’t mind if I drink while I drive do ya?” He then proceeds to divulge his political viewpoints by informing me why Bill Clinton was this county’s best president… “Our president is like a King… Kings get whatever they want… The boy wanted to get him some… Smart man!”

– One night while in the Smokies, I am night hiking solo. There are 600 bears in the Smokies. I don’t want to meet one of those 600 bears by myself at night. My bear scaring tactics consist of listening to my iPod and singing at the top of my lungs. Upon my arrival to the shelter at midnight, everyone “thanks” me for waking them up with my outstanding vocal abilities.

– Max Patch. Huge mountain with nothing on top but grass (a bald). Beautiful spot. I teach the northerners how to play baseball with a shirt rock and it quickly turns into Team Chaingang vs. The Wild Boars. I’m proud to say Team Chaingang was victorious. Then we cowboy camp into the sunset, under the stars, and wake up to sunrise… all on top of a mountain.

– RockNRoll and Strider worked for the famous Slingshot Bob for a day… YouTube him.

-The trail crosses under Interstate 26. Upon our arrival of this intersection, we get the wild hair to sleep under it… Becoming pretty proficient at the art of living homeless out here.

– Many a thanks to my buddy Thom Carman. Finds us under I-26 and brings us chicken biscuits. He then jokingly offers to take us into Asheville. We then respond with something like… “HELL YEAH!” We venture into the second best town in America… Asheville, NC (we all know Florence, AL is número uno). The Drive-By Truckers happen to be in town and we catch a great show… Trail magic y’all.

– Strider spots this great vine one day and has this bright idea to swing on it. This awesome swing sends him straight into a huge tree with a descent amount of velocity. His camera is in his pocket… the bruise wraps around his entire upper leg.

– Boo Boo has successfully gone 214 miles without washing any clothes.

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